Faces of EHS: Chris Fanning on going digital and prioritizing safety

Chris Fanning has a 35-year track record of success at leading software and technology companies building high-performance teams, driving innovation, scaling operations and increasing revenue and profitability. He received a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a Masters of Computer Science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Boston College. He was President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Survey Sampling International (SSI) and also held various leadership positions at Lattice Semiconductor Corporation and The Boston Consulting Group.

In 2019, Chris was named President & CEO of KPA, where his goal is to drive the growth of the company’s Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) solutions. KPA offers EHS software for a variety of businesses and an extensive catalog of online EHS training programs and recurring audits and inspections. With a 300-strong team of EHS experts, KPA guides customers in the manufacturing, automotive, construction, and oil and gas sectors how they can help keep their employees safe and their businesses comply with federal, state, and local laws retain.

For our latest profile, Faces of EHS, we sat down with Chris to talk about emerging EHS trends, the digitization of safety programs and how management can prioritize safety as a value in their workplaces.

Q: How did you get started in this area?

I started in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and EHS when I started leading the KPA team. One of the appeals of joining KPA was our mission to help companies keep their employees safe, compliant and on a more sustainable path.

Q: Who was your biggest influence in the industry?

ESG/EHS is such an emerging industry and compared to the many in our global economy it’s impossible to point to one truly influential person. I believe there is a great journey ahead for many of us in the industry, and I anticipate that some of the people in the industry today will emerge as generational leaders for the next wave of ESG/EHS professionals. I aspire to make an impact and help and influence others as they develop their careers in ESG/EHS.

Q: What do you like best and least about working in the industry? would you change something

Love the social good we contribute every day. Here, too, we help to ensure the safety of people! It gives us great pride to know that you are helping people get back to their families at the end of the day, and also helping businesses create a safer and more sustainable workplace. I am also pleased to be working with such a dynamic team of KPAers: everyone brings their best every day and it is a real privilege to have such an intelligent, energetic and dedicated team.

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What I dislike most is hearing business leaders tell me that implementing an ESG/EHS program is a “discretionary expense” as opposed to an initiative that is a core part of a company’s business outlook and operational DNA everyone should be. It’s a short-sighted perspective, but changing that mentality is one of the big opportunities for KPA in the years to come.

Q: How can business leaders make security a value within their organization?

It all starts at the top: the CEO needs to make it a core part of their company’s value set. It is critical that senior management be closely involved in their organization’s safety program. At KPA, we see that the more effective security programs require executive approval, day-to-day attention, and an appropriate level of investment.

There are generally three things management can do to ensure safety is a priority:

  • Attend Safety Committee meetings and contribute to: This sends out a clear message that safety is a top priority for everyone in the organization.
  • Safety and profitability correlate: A well-managed EHS program actually saves a company money. First, fewer employee injuries mean more employee uptime and productivity, as well as fewer work-related injuries and related costs. Positive safety records also tend to reduce a company’s insurance costs over time.
  • Lead by example: As with everything in life, actively practice the behavior you expect from your employees. This includes prioritizing EHS, attending and actively participating in EHS meetings, engaging in inspections, and rewarding safe behavior when you see it and employees who make it happen.

A good safety culture is rooted in teamwork and consistency. When your employees see that managers are actively following their company’s safety rules, they do the same.

Q: Where do you see the industry in five years? Or do you see current trends?

We have three main trends in mind for the next five years. Mobile applications with precision GPS will increasingly help to get the right information to the right people at the right time, including tailored training micro-learning. Creating ESG/EHS training is a core competency of KPAs; We produce bespoke ESG/EHS training unlike others who essentially resell content. With over 30 years of EHS experience, we believe this is a clear differentiator for KPA. We are the only EHS provider to be consistently recognized for excellence in training, and I believe this trend towards better, more up-to-date training will be critical for years to come.

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Environmental applications are quickly becoming an area of ​​understanding and focus for many companies, with emissions reporting being the immediate priority. Businesses need to take stock of where they stand in relation to a zero carbon initiative and then develop programs to reduce and measure their carbon footprint.

A big trend that we’re seeing in the automotive industry in particular is the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EV). With this change, it is important to consciously follow safety best practices when servicing electric vehicles. To help car dealerships stay safe when servicing EVs, KPA recently launched its EV Safety Program to protect service workers when working with a rapidly growing number of EVs on the market.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated safety culture issues?

The pandemic has introduced many new rules and regulations. In addition, it has significantly increased the awareness and importance of occupational safety in the eyes of many employees. Between new OSHA violations and immunization requirements and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, companies that haven’t updated or changed their safety programs in years are now adding many pages to their manuals.

While evolving rules and regulations are inevitable, opportunity lies in how your organization organizes, communicates, and enforces these security protocols. The old pen and paper method of storing safety information no longer works with today’s fast-paced workforce. If an accident happens, e.g. when there is a chemical spill, you don’t have time to run down the hall to get the safety manual and look for remedies.

EHS software is a great way to mitigate workplace safety risks—both visible (falls, slips, etc.) and invisible (COVID-19)—and ensure incidents are resolved quickly. Not only does it make it easier to keep up with changing rules and regulations, but workplace safety software that has mobile capabilities can even enable training on the go. Digital management also enables analytics that ultimately help an organization determine the priority areas that require more weight and more effective management.

Q: What will the safety culture look like in the future?

More and more organizations will recognize the importance of a strong safety culture and why it must be a priority. A security program doesn’t just live in a folder on the shelf; it should be woven into an organization’s core values.

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Digitization is a trend that I expect to accelerate significantly over the next five years. Businesses are realizing that pen and paper security programs just don’t work. They’re impossible to manage, especially as your business grows and regulations change. Digital safety programs that provide incident management, OSHA 300 reporting, training, etc. can greatly simplify the management of safety programs and lead to better results.

There will also be an accelerated push towards mobile security management software. When an incident occurs in the field, on a construction site, or at a facility, workers need quick access to mobile security applications that are simple and easy to use. By improving the accessibility of safety programs, companies will see better commitment to a safety culture across the organization.

In general, I expect companies to take occupational safety even more seriously. Not only is it the right thing to do, but employee compensation averages $1 billion a week. This can have a massive impact on a company’s bottom line because, say, they didn’t put up proper slip hazard signage at a construction site.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the KPA team we’ve built over the past few years and the many ways it positively impacts our clients’ EHS programs and outcomes. In doing so, we have built an excellent company with a strong growth foundation for many years.

Q: Do you have any tips for young professionals?

Learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. It’s a dynamic profession with many changes, so you need to be agile and intellectually curious if you want a great career in ESG/EHS. There will be a massive demand for people like this for decades to come, so if you really get involved, the sky’s the limit!

Q: Would you like to add anything else?

I often hear, “How much is this going to cost?” Without a doubt, creating a safety culture with the right technology requires investment. But considering the direct and indirect costs of Not With a well-organized, digitized ESG/EHS program, companies that fail to implement it for cost reasons will fall far behind the curve over time. And they will end up spending a lot more money on employee injury costs, regulatory fines, and employee goodwill.

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